Hundreds of invasive plant species are threatening New Jersey or have already done significant damage, according to environment advocates who are pushing lawmakers to continue advancing legislation that addresses the issue.

"They're a huge planetary threat, they diminish water quality, they're a hazard for human health, they endanger food security, and they're a leading cause of species extinction," said Patricia Shanley, a member of the New Jersey Forest Task Force.

Shanley made her comments before the Senate Environment Committee, who on Dec. 15 advanced legislation that would ban the sale of certain invasive plant species, and create an Invasive Species Council that would be charged with creating a management plan.

New Jersey had such a council in place until it was disbanded about a decade ago by then-Gov. Chris Christie.

"It's urgent that we don't kick this can down the road," Shanley said.

Advocates suggest there are approximately 200 invasive plant species that are "widespread, emerging, or potential" in New Jersey. New Jersey is one of five states, they say, that do not have legislation banning the sale of invasive plant species.

"The public doesn't understand — they will keep buying and planting them, having no idea what the impact is, as long as they're available. So we need to stop selling them," said Linda Bush, of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey. "I made the same mistake before I learned."

Some of these species arrive in the Garden State by accident — by way of port or camper, for example. But most, such as the Japanese barberry, are "introduced purposefully," advocates say.

Tree of heaven (Credit: Penn State Extension via YouTube)
Tree of heaven (Credit: Penn State Extension via YouTube)

"When we plant invasive species in our gardens, they don't stay in our gardens," Bush said. "They spread into the surrounding fields and out-compete and crowd out native species."

Invasive species are considered "tick magnets" by advocates. According to Shanley, invasive species are two times more likely than native species to host Lyme-infected ticks.

Some invasive species, meanwhile, attract foreign pests that cause more harm. The tree of heaven, which came here from China centuries ago, is the preferred landing pad for spotted lanternflies.

An Assembly version of the legislation has not yet been considered by a committee.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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